Pardon me today, while I do some long-winded thinking out loud.
Certainly by now, you have been annoyed, as I have many times when, with a friend at home or a restaurant or anywhere, he or she interrupts in mid-sentence (and mid-thought) saying, “Excuse me, I need to take this,” and then turns away – or even walks away – to speak with someone else on a cell phone.
”Recently, for example, Sam Ashton, a 23-year-old Stanford University computer science graduate and the founder of Loopt, a pioneering friend-finding service, was having dinner in Palo Alto, Calif., when he noticed from the screen on his phone that his freshman college roommate was having dinner just two restaurants away. The two met after dinner at a bar, where they were joined by another former Stanford student who noticed on his display that they were socializing together.”
- - The New York Times, 16 February 2009
“NOTICED ON HIS PHONE??? It’s happened many times and I can picture it easily: just as I’m getting to the punch line of a funny incident that happened yesterday, for example, I realize my dinner companion, looking at her cell phone and texting, has consigned me to background noise and is no longer listening.
Mostly (but not always) in my case, it is much younger friends – those who have hardly known life without constantly being tethered by an invisible electronic cord to hundreds of others who are allowed, encouraged even, to be in constant contact. It is about to get worse:
As John Markoff, writing in that Times piece, explained, it is no longer only voice calls and texting that distract people from the here and now. Added to the mix is the emerging “map metaphor” for cell phones (which have become, for young people, life itself). Google has recently launched a service named Latitude that tracks friends’ locations on your cell phone and alerts you to their proximity including a handy map – which has other uses too:
”Indeed, a new generation of smartphones like the G1, with Android software developed by Google, and a range of Japanese phones now ‘augment’ reality by painting a map over a phone-screen image of the user’s surroundings produced by the phone’s camera...
“For starters, map-based cellphones simply translate paper maps into a digital medium, but future systems will probably begin to blur the boundaries between the display and the real world...
“Increasingly, phones will allow users to look at an image of what is around them. You could be surrounded by skyscrapers but have an immediate reference map showing your destination and features of the landscape, along with your progress in real time.
One of the people Markoff interviewed for his story asks, “How long will it be before you come out of the subway and you hold up your screen to get a better view of what you’re looking at in the physical world?”
Personally, I prefer to read street signs and look at what’s around me. That method has served me well in dozens of cities I’ve visited, even when the street signs are in another language.
But the world is changing and I suspect elders, certainly this one, will not – or not quickly enough to be part of the emerging mainstream. I don't remember to take my cell phone with me much of the time, let alone use it for anything but talking.
Part of the difference is that those of us who are old don’t need all this friend tracking. We generally don’t spend our evenings looking for love in all the wrong places anymore and are less likely to perhaps cut a dinner short to meet other friends for a drink. But as the kids grow up they will adapt these technologies and the behaviors that go with them to their adult and professional lives. What is rude in the world elders have lived in is becoming acceptable and commonplace – a normal part of the social landscape.
I think it was Carl Jung who said, “If you don’t move life, life will move you.” He was speaking of our personal lives, but it applies on the macro scale too. Like it or not, life hurtles on, there is no stopping it and with that forward movement come new beliefs, new attitudes, new ideas of what is right and wrong, new social mores and behavior.
It doesn’t seem so long ago to me that a slip showing below a skirt hem was cause for blushing. Nowadays, no one wears slips and bra straps are a fashion item. No matter how hard I try, I continue to be startled when I hear the word “gangbanger,” in reference to certain young men; it still means group rape to me. And once upon a time, I could watch a play or movie in silence. Today, theater managers are widely ignored when they plead with audiences to turn off their cell phones. Soon they will give up pleading and dinging phones and whispered (or loud) conversation will be as much a part of the theater experience as they are on trains.
There are four billion cell phones in the world and the social momentum is on their side involving constant ring tone interruptions and more interaction with tiny screens than with the people in the room. I have learned that such a request as, “Do you think you could turn that off for the hour-and-a-half we’re here at dinner?” is a retro social faux pas of those who, like me, are out of touch in more ways than one.
Which is the reason - and what advocates of longevity research miss - we must all die in a reasonable number of decades because if the old folks don’t get out of the way, they will impede the future.
If I, at nearly 68, am annoyed by friends who still refuse to use email, and by local service providers who have not converted to electronic billing, certainly my young friends are irritated (but sweetly too polite to mention) that I almost never have my cell phone with me and sometimes miss voicemail messages for days because I don’t hear the beep from a coat pocket in the closet where it is likely to be out of juice anyway.
Oddly (to me, but not them), young people appear not to be distracted and in fact, welcome cell phone calls, texts and soon, announcements of friends’ proximity. I would prefer to enjoy the moment uninterrupted, but there is never any going back.
While the past can and should instruct the future, it is young people who will and should decide how; it will be their world, not ours. Just as we discarded some of the habits, behaviors and ideas of our parents’ generation, so must they. And it is our job, when our time comes, to “shuffle off this mortal coil” to make room for our children’s and grandchildren’s future. Mother Nature has wisely decreed it so and we elders would be wise too, to make our peace with it.
However, I am certain that until my dying day, I will be annoyed by cell phone interruptions.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, A. Peri recalls The Little English Cottage of her childhood.]